In an announcement made by the Hon. Julie Bishop yesterday, ANU appointed their 13th Vice Chancellor (VC), Distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell AO FAHA FTSE. She will step into the role in 2024, replacing Professor Brian Schmidt AC who has held the position for the last eight years.
Schmidt resigned from the role in February this year, at his State of the University address to the ANU community. He cited wanting to return to “a somewhat more balanced life,” and to avoid becoming “the status quo” as reasons for his departure. Schmidt will return to an academic role as a Distinguished Professor in the ANU College of Science along with resuming teaching and research in astronomy, at the ANU Mount Stromlo Observatory.
Since his commencement in 2016, Schmidt has seen the release of the 2017-2021 Strategic Plan, and the release of the 2021-2025 Strategic Plan, both with the vision for “ANU [to] be among the great universities of the world and [be] driven by a culture of excellence in everything we do.”
Schmidt has also overseen the introduction of ANU’s Below Zero environmental plan, the expansion and development of Kambri and residential halls on campus with the creation of Yukeembruk, and ANU’s COVID-19 management and response. Schmidt engaged with students and staff in his weekly VC blog, including regular updates on his vineyard, and was a regular face around campus as he attended and hosted events for students, staff, and the wider community.
Schmidt’s time as VC saw ongoing student and staff activism, particularly regarding racism, ANU’s environmental impact, the AUKUS agreement, women’s issues, staff support and pay, and general student safety. During Schmidt’s tenure, the first survey on sexual assault and harassment in Australian universities was held, which saw ANU rank as one of the worst universities in Australia for sexual assault and harassment. This rank continued in the second NSSS survey, held in 2021. Since 2016, ANU has also dropped in the QS rankings from 20th in the world to 34th, now below UniMelb, USYD, and UNSW.
In her speech this morning, Bishop highlighted the selection process that led to Bell’s appointment. “[We] consulted widely with members of the ANU community, including students, staff, alumni, partners and others, to better understand their priorities for the next ANU VC.” She stated that feedback from the community demonstrated the desire for a “progressive, innovative, and forward-thinking leader with a strong academic background.”
The position was advertised internationally, with shortlisting and interviews occurring between June and August. The selection committee encompassed ANU Council members including Naomi Flutter, Pro-Chancellor, Alison Kitchen, National Chairman for KPMG Australia, Professor Peter Yu, Vice-President (First Nations), and Ben Yates, President of the ANU Students’ Association, to name a few.
Bell, soon to be the ANU’s first female VC, has a long history of working at the crossroads between humanities and innovation. She trained as a cultural anthropologist, with a PhD from Stanford University and has worked in leadership and research across the public and private sectors. She is an “anthropologist, technologist and futurist” and has worked at Silicon Valley’s Intel corporation, guiding product development, social science and design research capabilities. She is known for being an important voice in global debates around AI and human society.
She returned to Australia and ANU in 2017, and joined the College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics (CECC) in which she designed and established the School of Cybernetics, and the University’s first innovation institute, the Autonomy, Agency and Assurance Institute (3Ai) in collaboration with CSIRO. She has been the Director of the School of Cybernetics since 2021 and the 3Ai institution since 2017. She also held the position of interim Dean of the ANU College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics (CECC) in 2022, at Schmidt’s request.
Bell is the inaugural appointee to the Florence Violet McKenzie Chair at the ANU, which honours Australia’s first female electrical engineer and promotes inclusive uses of technology within society. Her other accreditations and accolades include being a Member of the Prime Minister’s National Science and Technology Council, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (AAH), SRI International Engelbart Distinguished Fellow and an Officer of the Order of Australia. She also has a Ted Talk on the future of AI, and multiple publications to her name.
Since 2019, Bell has served as a Non-Executive Director of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, a role she will relinquish effective October 31st.
In her University-wide media release this morning, Bishop wrote “In Genevieve, the University Council has chosen a compelling and passionate leader, with a deep understanding of the University’s distinctive mission, remarkable legacy, vibrant culture and tremendous assets.”
Schmidt commented, “It is with great pleasure that I am able to hand over the leadership of ANU to Genevieve Bell. She is someone who is both a leading intellectual and deeply committed to the values of the University and I know she will do a superb job as Vice-Chancellor.”
In the release, Bell said “I’m honoured to be appointed ANU Vice-Chancellor. As Australia’s national university, ANU is a truly unique institution. I’m excited to work alongside talented, committed colleagues, in all parts of the University, to build on our legacy and advance our important national and international mission.”
Bell’s appointment poses an exciting opportunity for a fresh perspective and the potential for change. We will have to wait and see how she approaches the role when she begins on the 1st of January, 2024.
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